Predicting the Unpredictable in the BCS

Photo by Jeff Siner | Charlotte Observer

Photo by Jeff Siner | Charlotte Observer

Best of the Rest …

The college football season concludes with the BCS Championship Game between top-ranked Florida State and No. 2 Auburn. But before the main course is served on January 6, there are few appetizers to nosh on, as four bowl games are scheduled from January 3-5. Here are my best bets for those contests:

COTTON BOWL (Jan. 3): Oklahoma State vs. Missouri
The Pick: Oklahoma State +1

ORANGE BOWL (Jan. 3): Clemson vs. Ohio State
The Pick: Clemson +2½, OVER 68½

BBVA COMPASS BOWL (Jan. 4): Vanderbilt vs. Houston
The Pick: Houston +2½

GODADDY BOWL (Jan. 5): Arkansas State vs. Ball State
The Pick: OVER 64

Every year at this time, college football’s end-of-season hyperbole machine kicks into overdrive, and the song generally remains the same: Wow, what a crazy, unpredictable year that was! Man, [insert overachieving team] came out of nowhere! And what about that collapse by [insert underachieving team]? And we knew [insert Top 10 team] would be really good, but … THAT good?

I’ll admit I’ve done my part to grease that machine over the years. And I’m about to do it again—only this time, it’s justified. No, really. For proof, check out the path of the two BCS Championship Game participants: Florida State, ranked No. 11 in the preseason, ran the table while running up the score, winning its 13 games by an average of 42 points. Only Boston College (a 48-34 loser) came within two touchdowns of the Seminoles, who throttled their other 12 opponents by at least 27 points. Oh, and Florida State did this after losing 11 players to the NFL while handing the ball to redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston (who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy).

But that’s not even the Seminoles’ most impressive accomplishment. This is: Despite being favored by an average of 34½ points per game, they went 11-1-1 against the spread! In other words, much like opposing teams couldn’t catch up to Florida State, neither could the oddsmakers.

While the ’Noles played the part of Secretariat from the opening kickoff, Auburn entered the season looking like a three-legged pony at a kiddie carnival. The Tigers finished 3-9 last season, including 0-8 in the SEC, results that got their coach fired just two years after he won a national championship. So, understandably, Las Vegas this summer installed Auburn as a 1,000-to-1 long shot to win it all. And when the Tigers followed a somewhat lackluster 3-0 start with a 14-point loss at LSU, those odds seemed justified. Then Auburn bounced back with a win. Then another. And another—nine straight victories in all, including consecutive last-second miracles against Georgia and Alabama.

Now the Tigers find themselves facing Florida State in the final BCS title game—a 1,000-to-1 long shot vs. a 40-to-1 long shot. Which brings me to my wagering advice for this January 6 showdown at the Rose Bowl: Proceed with caution—extreme caution. Because while you may look at Florida State’s 11-1-1 ATS record and 42-point average victory margin and be tempted to unload a stack of Benjamins on the Seminoles minus-8½, you need to remember that Las Vegas couldn’t figure out Auburn this season, either: The Tigers arrive in Pasadena with an 11-2 ATS mark, having cashed in 10 consecutive games.

What’s more, the SEC has won seven straight national championships—and now an SEC team is catching more than a touchdown from oddsmakers. Then again, Florida State has won and covered five straight bowl games, with those five victories by an average of 15 points.

So what’s a gambler to do, you ask? Bypass the side and play the game “under” the inflated total of 67 points. Because after a month-long layoff, both defenses will be ahead of the offenses. And because in the 15 previous BCS title games, only three have surpassed 67 total points.

What’s that? You want me to man up and make a prediction? Fine: Florida State 34, Auburn 24—because the Seminoles’ defense is that good.

For Matt Jacob’s NFL wild-card playoff selections, visit